Sunday, March 18, 2012

Captain Magnus Linklater

Magnus was the brother of my paternal great-grandfather James Linklater of Kaiapoi, NZ. James was the youngest of the seven children of Magnus Linklater & May McKay and over the years I’ve managed to trace all of their children except for John, the eldest, and Magnus the 5th child. Just last year I found John who had come to live in Wanganui (see previous post on this blog) so that left Magnus.


In the 1841 census Magnus was at home with his mother & siblings, aged 4, his father was on the ‘Trusty of Leith’ ship which was in port. Here we have Magnus at home (aged 13) with his widowed mother in the 1851 census of the town of Leith & parish of South Leith, James (my greatgrandfather) and their sister Jane were also there along with their cousin & grandmother (don’t you love it when that happens):-


After that I’ve never found sight of him anywhere until late last year when in the course of researching eldest brother John on I stumbled across a Magnus Linklater in someone’s tree that had an excerpt from ‘Mildred’s Diary’, this is part of it:-

Mildred, or "Bobbie" as she was called by her fourteen grandchildren, was born in Tamsui, Formosa on May 6th, 1890.  Her father, Captain Edward Stevens, was a midshipman in the British Navy and ended up with the Chinese Maritime customs in China.  At the time of her birth he was the Harbor Master in Tamsui.
Her maternal grandfather, Magnus Linklater, was born in Leith, Midlothian in 1838.  He was a sea captain on China clippers. Apparently, the family all took to China as her mother, Marian Linklater, and aunts, ultimately settled in China.  Life was pleasanter and cheaper than in Scotland. Her father and mother met and married in China.

I immediately pounced on the words ‘born in Leith, Midlothian in 1838’. My Magnus was born in Leith in 1837, was this him? It would explain why I haven’t been able to find him in any UK census after 1851. It certainly seemed likely so I set about trying to find anything I could from the information in Mildred’s Diary. The owner of the tree wasn’t able to help with anything further except to say that Mildred had married Donald Smith & they had eventually settled in the USA?

So where to next? Google of course! I set about learning everything I could about Tamsui, Formosa (now Taiwan) and came across an interesting article on George Leslie MacKay, the first Presbyterian missionary to northern Formosa and in it a mention of Tamsui:-

The Ching dynasty had opened 4 seaports on the island of Taiwan to foreign trade in 1860. These were Kaohsiung, Anping and Keelung and Tamsui. By the 1870's Tamsui was a flourishing port for foreign trade in the north of Taiwan, located 15 miles down river from Taipei. It was in Tamsui that George L. Mackay arrived on the last day of 1871 escorted by Hugh Ritchie, a Presbyterian worker in South Taiwan. 

I also found a webpage for the ‘Tamsui Foreign Cemetery’, a graveyard for foreigners which traces its origins back to the late 1860s, a time when the first foreign merchants were establishing themselves at the port, mainly to trade opium for camphor and tea. Unfortunately no Linklater was buried there.

So now I knew there were foreign merchants establishing themselves in Tamsui I realised there should also be ships plying between Tamsui & other parts of the world including England/Scotland. I had already established that Magnus had passed his Master Mariner examinatiions in 1865:-

Index to the Captains Registers of Lloyd’s of London (Guildhall Library Ms 18567)
LINKLATER, John b. Leith 1827 C28531 Leith 1863 vol.9 1863-1864
LINKLATER, Magnus b. Leith 1836 C19728 Shields 1865 vol.9 1865-1868, 1870, 1872-1873; vol.21 1876

Could that be the Shields in Durham, England? I searched in the 1861 & 1871 census of Durham but no luck there, was starting to get despondent by now thinking I’d hit another brick wall but decided to scroll through the Lloyd’s Shipping Registers where I found these (not an easy task!):-lloyds1868-smallNaworthCastle1868-small

From these I was able to work out that the ship ‘Naworth Castle’ was built (& based) in Sunderland (Durham yeah!) in 1868 and that it’s first captain was Captain Linklater, the ship’s first voyage was to Ceylon. There are many men named ‘Captain Linklater’ in the British newspapers so I had to pinpoint the above seeing as he didn’t have a given name, this was my next breakthrough, the passenger list of the Naworth Castle when it called into Sydney, Australia in 1874:-



Captain Magnus Linklater & he’d signed it too! ‘Names of Passengers’ - Mrs Linklater & Infant - I perked up considerably at this, this Magnus was married & even had a child. If Magnus wasn’t in the census then surely his wife had to be, didn’t she? Back I went to the census & found one possibility in both census:-


Source Citation: Class: RG 9; Piece: 3780; Folio: 36; Page: 17; GSU roll: 543186
1861 Census
Coronation St, Sunderland
Jane Linklater wife mar 21 sailor's wife born Sunderland
Mary Ann Linklater dau 6mths infant born Sunderland
Ann Elder sister wid 28 dressmaker born Sunderland

Could this be them? Mary Ann could very well be the Marian mentioned in ‘Mildred’s Diary’.


Source Citation: Class: RG10; Piece: 5009; Folio: 69; Page: 73; GSU roll: 847381
1871 Census
6 D'Arcy Tce, Bishopwearmouth, Sunderland
Jane Linklater wife mar 31 master mariner's wife born Sunderland
Mary A Linklater dau 10 born Sunderland
May Linklater dau 4 ditto
Jane Linklater dau 2 ditto

Looking even better, May was the name of Magnus’ mother. Also, in 1861 Jane was the wife of a ‘sailor’ but by 1871 he had progressed to a ‘master mariner’ and it was in 1865 that Magnus had passed his master mariner examinations, better & better but still no link to Magnus & this family as yet. The new LDS website,, was my next stop where I lucked out (if you are of the opinion that ‘lucked out’ is a good thing) big time:-

Marriages Mar 1861
Davison  Jane     Sunderland  10a 441   
Linklater  Magnus     Sunderland  10a 441


Yes! We have lift off! I knew this was the right marriage because I had found a marriage for Jane’s sister Ann, Ann Davison to William Elder. But was this Magnus the one born in Leith, Scotland? Seems like he should be but how to prove it? Jane & her children weren’t listed in the 1881 or any subsequent census in the UK so it seemed like they might be the right family, probably leaving the UK soon after their three daughters were buried. Daughter Jane (in the 1871 census) had died in the 4qtr of 1871 & they had subsequently had another daughter named Minnie Jane born/died 1872 then Florence Minnie born/died 1873:-

FreeBMD Deaths Dec 1871
Linklater  Jane  3  Sunderland  10a 419

name: Minnie Jane Linklater
gender: Female
burial date: 06 Aug 1872
death place: Southwick, Durham
age: 0
birth date: 1872
residence: Southwick, Durham

name: Florence Minnie Linklater
gender: Female
burial date: 03 Sep 1873
burial place: Durham County
death place: England
age: 0
birth date: 1873
residence: Hendon

I found this list on which looked promising:-

Some matches are to a relation of the subject because you ticked the 'search all' box.
Surname(s) Forename(s) Relation Year of Event  Event Type  Place Recordset View 
Linklater Magnus  1873 Birth  Sea  BT_158_04  Full Details  Page Image 
Linklater Magnus Father: Magnus Linklater  1873 Birth  Sea  BT_158_04  Full Details  Page Image 
Linklater Magnus  1873 Birth  Sea  BT_160_05  Full Details  Page Image 
Linklater Magnus Father: Magnus Linklater  1873 Birth  Sea  BT_160_05  Full Details  Page Image 
Linklater Florence Jane Father: Magnus Linklater  1876 Birth  Sea  BT_160_05  Full Details  Page Image 
Linklater Mary Father: Magnus Linklater  1884 Marriage  China  RG33_012  Full Details  Page Image
Linklater Florence Father: Magnus Linklater  1904 Marriage  China  RG34_04  Full Details  Page Image

Not having any credits left there I looked for them on & found the following. First we have Magnus born 1 Dec 1872 on a merchant marine ship at sea in the Gulf of Siam, most probably the ‘infant’ listed on the ‘Naworth Castle’ when she called into Sydney in Jun 1874 and his sister, Florence Jane, also born at sea in 1876:-

name: Mangus Linklater
gender: Male
baptism/christening place: England
birth date: 01 Dec 1873
birthplace: Merchant Marine, at Sea, Great Britain
father's name: Mangus Linklater
indexing project (batch) number: C01403-7
system origin: Great Britain-EASy and VR
source film number: 1419470

name: Florence Jane Linklater
gender: Female
birth date: 27 Jun 1876
birthplace: Merchant Marine, At Sea, Great Britain
father's name: Magnus Linklater
mother's name: Jane Davison
indexing project (batch) number: C00621-0
system origin: Great Britain-EASy and VR
source film number: 1483323

Florence is most probably the ‘Auntie Florrie’ referred to in ‘Mildred’s Diary’:-

Mildred's sister, Theresa, was born in Shanghai 18 months before her. They lived in Pagoda Anchorage near Foochow on the Min River when Mildred was between five and ten. Their mother's younger sister, Auntie Florrie, lived with them and gave them lessons.

Finally these two deaths:-

name: Magnus Linklater
gender: Male
death date: 01 Apr 1884
death place: Double Island, Swatow, China
age: 45
birth date: 1839
occupation: Pilot
indexing project (batch) number: B02052-1

name: Jane Linklater
gender: Female
death date: 24 Jul 1883
death place: Double Island, Swatow, China
age: 42
birth date: 1841
marital status: Married
spouse's name: Magnus Linklater
indexing project (batch) number:

Both so young to have died within a year of each other, I haven’t been able to find out the circumstances of their deaths yet.

Then I noticed these two baptisms which lead me on to find the marriage of daughter Florence Jane:-

name: Florence Aileen O'Neill
gender: Female
birth date: 03 Jan 1905
birthplace: Chin Wang Tao, China
father's name: Gordon O'Neill
mother's name: Florence Linklater
indexing project (batch) number: C02099-8

name: Douglas Gordon O'Neill
gender: Male
birth date: 12 Jun 1908
birthplace: Chin Wang Tao, Chihli, China
father's name: Gordon O'Neill
mother's name: Florence Linklater O'Neill
indexing project (batch) number: C02099-8


Married at the All Saints Church, Tientsin, North China, Florence’s father is Magnus Linklater, master mariner & one of the witnesses is M Stevens, her sister Mary Ann who married Capt Stevens. This ties in with another excerpt from Mildred’s Diary:-

At that time due to slower communication and travel by the time news was received that his wife was very ill, he arrived in Marseille the day his wife was buried. He did not want to leave his children in school in England. Auntie Florrie offered to help raise his family, however she soon met and married and went to live in Tientsin, taking Teddie with her.

Also a marriage for her sister May:-


These two I had to bite the bullet & purchase credits at to view. By now I still haven’t found that perfect source to say that this Magnus Linklater is the one I’m looking for but I think there is enough circumstantial evidence to more or less prove it is him. I’ve not found another Magnus Linklater born/baptised in Leith, Midlothian within five years either side of 1837.

I did find a will for a Magnus Linklater listed in the English National Archives which is possibly his but so far I haven’t been able to work out how to order it, I gave up after getting frustrated by going around & around in circles:-

Probates in China at National Archives
FO 917/336
Linklater, Magnus

This has been the most satisfying outcome from my research & I couldn’t have asked for a better result, well perhaps for all of it to have been free would be nice, but I’m not complaining!

I note that from the eight children (that I’ve found) of Magnus & Jane that only four survived to adulthood, the eldest Mary Ann, the third child May, the seventh Magnus & the youngest Florence. The three girls all married & I don’t know what happened to them after that. Son Magnus it seems didn’t marry, I found him back in Durham in 1891 living with his mother’s sister, Mary Cox. In 1911 he was at a boarding house in Wales, listed as a single ships’ fireman, then in 1912 he was listed as a crewman on board the ‘Wakanui’ departing Canada & arriving in Sydney, Australia. A year later on the 9th March 1913 he met an ignominious death in Botany Bay:-


On the 18th March a post mortem & Coroner’s Inquest was held but there was no evidence to show how he came to drown. Thank goodness for that Christmas card, without that we would never have known what happened to him. It seems by the time of the inquest they had found out who he was because it shows his place of birth as being ‘at sea, Gulf of Siam’.


Lastly a few pages from a book I found online and a couple of photographs of Swatow (Shan T’ow) where Magnus & Jane were living when they died.



I now have more details on other family members of further generations so if you think you might be connected to this family somehow please contact me.

A big thank you must go to Barbara who published ‘Mildred’s Diary’ in her family tree, without that I would still be mystified.

References:; FreeBMD; Trove-NLA; Scotlands People; Church in Cleveland; The Takao Club; Maritime Archives; BMDregisters;; Google Books.


Dawn Scotting


  1. OMG Aunty Dawn you are SUCH a sleuth. Detective Dawn we should call you. Connecting all these dots is so interesting!

  2. Fascinating information. Mildred Steven's Smith was my husband's grandmother. Great fun to show my 17 year old granddaughter the history of her great-great-great-great grandfather.

  3. Please ignore the two deaths of Minnie Jane and Florence Minnie that I included in this story, I've just recently found out they did not belong to Magnus and Jane.